Twitter played a crucial role in breaking news of Osama bin Laden’s death well before the official announcement was made by Barack Obama.
Speculation went into overdrive at 9.45pm USA eastern standard time – 2.45am in the UK – with the following tweet from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer: ‘POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.”
According to The New York Times’ media blog Media Decorder, reporters in Washington ‘suspected almost immediately that the announcement could be about bin Laden”.
The man widely credited with breaking the news is Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
At 10.25pm – over an hour before the official announcement – he tweeted: ‘So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.”
By 11pm news of bin Laden’s death was being run on the Huffington Post and the New York Post websites.
The Telegraph reports that news of Bin Laden’s death ‘saw the highest sustained rate of tweets ever”, and that for over an hour there were more than 3,000 tweets per second about bin Laden – peaking at 5,106 tweets per second during Obama’s address.
While Urbahn is creadited withe breaking the news, it has since emerged that another Twitter user unwittingly reported events in Abbottabad as they unfolded.
IT consultant Sohaib Athar, who lives near the compound where bin Laden was found, began tweeting when he heard a helicopter above the town. He went on to describe the action before realising: “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”